In herbalist Susan Mead’s view, remembering the basics is the basis of health. For example, she relies on garlic (Allium sativum), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and onions (Allium cepa) to enhance immune function. These “three musketeers” of the immune system, she says, can be included with benefit in our daily diet or applied to ease symptoms of various maladies with great benefit.
“If I only had one herb that I could use for the rest of my life, it would be garlic,” says Mead. One way to use garlic is to chop one or two cloves, put them on a spoon, place them toward the back of the tongue, and swallow them. Ingesting garlic in this way minimizes the odor that concerns many people, she says. Garlic can also be chopped and tossed into marinades or soups, or sautéed with onion and included in various dishes. In addition to having antibacterial and antiviral properties, garlic can help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. It can also be used as a suppository to alleviate hemorrhoids or clear up yeast infections, she says.
The many uses of ginger
Ginger can be included in soups, stews, or stir-fries, or made into a tea. Those who don’t like the taste of ginger or aren’t accustomed to cooking with it might prefer the crystallized or pickled forms. If you feel a cold or flu coming on, says Mead, grate gingerroot, place it in a tea ball, and make a small pot of tea, steeping it for at least five minutes. Then draw a hot bath, and drink the tea while bathing. The ginger will cause you to sweat, and to “burn out” the bacteria or virus. Go to bed and sleep as long as you can, without an alarm waking you. “That one thing works wonders,” says Mead.
In addition to stimulating immune function and reducing infection, ginger helps heal bronchitis, dysentery, nausea and vomiting, and gastritis. Sometimes Mead recommends the crystallized ginger for weight issues or for people who have diabetes. Eating it can help people reduce sugar intake and thereby enhance the immune system’s ability to fight disease.
Onions also provide flavor and immune benefits in soups, stews, and stir-fries. Cook it with garlic and olive oil, or include it in tuna or chicken salads. If you have trouble digesting it, notes Mead, chew a few fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare).
Onions can be used in a traditional cough remedy: Simmer onion slices in water with honey until they are soft, and eat one every four hours. In addition, placing onion packs on the chest can alleviate bronchial inflammation or other chest congestion. Placing them on insect bites draws out swelling and lessens pain.
The benefits of onion include lower blood pressure and cholesterol and decreased phlegm and inflammation of the nose and throat.
A synergistic effect
Fresh garlic, ginger and onions are more medicinal than dried spices or pastes. And using all three together has a synergistic affect that can’t be achieved by one alone, says Mead. In addition to enhancing the immune system, the benefits of including all in your diet include lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
“The way we look at healing in the West often gets too complicated,” says Mead. “I appreciate the Chinese philosophy that looks to food as a healing tool. And if you are going to cook anyway, you might as well gain the maximum benefit.”
Lynda McCullough is a freelance writer living in Colorado.